By Sam Catanzaro
At the October 15 Santa Monica City Council meeting, Praesidium, Inc., a firm specializing in evaluating, designing and implementing best practices to prevent and detect sexual abuse of minors, provided a presentation to Council showing findings from a review of City youth programs and protocols, as well as opportunities to strengthen best practices across the City.
Praesidium was retained in October 2018 in the wake of charges pressed against Eric Uller, a former City of Santa Monica employee who was accused of molesting children in a series of incidents that date back to 1986. Uller was found dead in his apartment on November 15 in a possible suicide.
“Though allegations do not relate to current City program, over the past year, the City has worked with Praesidium to proactively review and strengthen all City youth programs and policies,” said the City of Santa Monica in a media release.
Uller, who was a Principal Technology Analyst with the City’s Information Systems Department was accused of sexually molesting ten minors between the years 1986 and 2010. Four of the victims were allegedly assaulted while Uller was volunteering with the Santa Monica Police Activities League (PAL) in the 1990s.
“As much as we might wish to, we cannot change any events from 20 years ago,” said City Attorney Lane Dilg. “But we can take the opportunity to be the best we can be – now and in the future. And we are committed to doing so.”
The audit included program site visits, over 100 interviews and a review of program procedures and policies, training curriculum and screening and hiring documents.
The areas for improvement point to standardizing policies and procedures across programs so every program is leveraging the same best practices. Praesidium also found that city staff are sometimes uncertain of appropriate staff to youth ratios as well as all anonymous reporting mechanisms.
The findings highlight strengths in the city including requirements on mandatory reporter training and the fact that many City programs have strong policies and procedures to protect youth.
Praesidium’s recommendations include ensuring that everyone, no matter their role, understands that safety and the protection of children is part of their job and establishing a Youth Protection Committee to oversee citywide standardization of youth protection policies and reporting protocols
“We will expeditiously implement these recommendations to ensure every program and every staff member has clarity and confidence in their role to prevent and detect child abuse of any kind,” said Assistant City Manager and Chief Operating Officer Katie Lichtig.
The recommendations presented will be affirmed through a resolution brought back to Council in the coming months.